May 29, 2022

guruproofreading

Discover your best

Repair tables, broken vacuum cleaners and posters: Weaving new worlds together in response to breakdowns

Introduction

Repair cafés are a relatively recent phenomenon, places where people come together to repair everyday objects, such as electronic household items, electrical appliances, clothes, toys, and relatively simple means of transportation such as pedal cycles or bicycles. Although they are relatively new—the first repair café was allegedly invented by Martine Postma in 2009—repair cafés have quickly gained popularity and there are now over 1500 worldwide (Repair Café, 2019). One of the prime features of repair cafés is their friendly atmosphere and casual, easy-going attitude: there are no monetary transactions involved, repairs are done principally for free, and, just like in a regular café or pub, people can come and go whenever they like. The main aim of a repair café is to operate as a meeting place that is “all about repairing things (together)” (Repair Café, 2019). Repair cafés thus function as places in which people congregate in “community workshops” (Charter and Keiller, 2014: 3) and “help people to help themselves” (Kannengießer, 2018: 101). As meeting places for repairing everyday stuff, expert volunteers assist people to mend what would otherwise be disposed of. Crucially, then, what makes repair cafés distinctive is that the act of repairing is not carried out by or delegated to specialist and corporately-owned repair centers. On the contrary, repair cafés make the act of repairing public, and “the actual repairing as well as the repair events are staged as political actions which strive for cultural transformation aiming at sustainability” (Kannengießer, 2018: 102). This explicit connection with sustainability is crucial for repair cafés: according to repaircafe.org, orienting people’s attitudes and changing their general “mindset (. . .) is essential to kindle people’s enthusiasm for a sustainable society” (Repair Café, 2019: no page).

Given this special attention to repairing as a public activity, repair cafés are regularly associated with other contemporary developments within civil society that seek to (re)enact the importance of public making, such as fab-labs, hacker- and makerspaces, sewing workshops, open bicycle workshops, upcycling groups, etc. (Anderson, 2012; Deflorian, 2021; Durrani, 2018, 2021; Frantzeskaki et al., 2016). For a long time in history, practical hands-on repairs of mundane goods (such as clothing, electronic equipment, bicycles, furniture, shoes, etc.) were normal practices that were done either at home or in an industrial environment. But it is equally true that the physical act of for example mending clothes has traditionally been associated with domestic drudgery of women, necessities of wartime and hard times (McLaren and McLauchlan, 2015) and that the maintenance and repair work that keeps industrial societies running has been neglected by many researchers as something they somehow fail to notice (Graham and Thrift, 2007). From the second half of the twentieth century onwards, mass-production offers consumers the convenience of easily available and brand-new replacements. Mass production equally discourages repairs, as mechanical, electronic devices are equipped with smaller and more compact connections that facilitate this very mass production, but at the same time make it nearly impossible to reopen them when needed. Yet, a growing awareness of the ecological impact of all these mass produced goods has recently led to the recognition that “the ability to work with materials, and to make, repair or repurpose physical things, are vital skills” (Carr and Gibson, 2016: 298). This also means that the academic literature approaches the importance of public making in repair cafes and the broader maker movement mainly from the question of how these practices can function as breeding grounds for a new, circular economy that effectively curbs resource flows (Cohen and Muñoz, 2016: 87) and manages to re-learn skills needed to repair and maintain broken consumer goods (Dewberry et al., 2016).

In this article, we want to contrast this functional approach of public making spaces that seeks to strengthen human autonomy and specific outcomes with an approach that aims to articulate a more-than-human public pedagogy at work in repair cafés. To do so, we introduce in the first section of this article three possible ways to consider repair cafés as educational practices—an instrumental, a transformative, and a relational one—and argue that a relational approach is especially fruitful in articulating this public pedagogy. In a second section, we present an empirical case, a repair café that is situated in the city of Leuven (Belgium) and show how this relational approach enables us to look at the small conversations between repairers and users and how these small talks subvert the dominant economic incentive of buying ever more new stuff. In the third section, we add to these tactical conversations the tactile care for things that is cultivated in a repair café and how this installs what we designate as a studious milieu. We conclude this article with a reflection on the minor nature of these gestures and their precise capacity to navigate a deeply entangled more-than-human world (Decuypere, Hoet & Vandenabeele, 2019; Fenwick, 2006; Manning, 2016; Masschelein, 2010).

Repair cafés as educational practices

Even though limited scholarly attention has so far been paid to the educational dimensions of repair cafés, the organization Repair Café itself positions repair cafés explicitly as educational sites. It stresses that the interaction between visitors who bring their broken items from home and the volunteers who try to repair these items constitutes an “ongoing learning process” (Repair Café, 2019: no page). In a similar vein, Kannengießer (2020: 11) has recently argued that “[p]roviding education is a core ambition of the Repair Cafés’ organizers: they want people to engage with their objects, to understand their devices, and to learn how to repair them.” In this section, and in correspondence with broader developments in the field of environmental and sustainability education, we argue that repair cafés can be approached as educational practices in at least three different manners (for a detailed version of the argument, see Decuypere, Hoet & Vandenabeele, 2019: 2–3).

First, repair cafés can be approached instrumentally. In this approach, repair cafés are considered as places that develop and enhance the sustainability competences of visitors and repairers. The starting point here is the assumption that the competences gained (repair knowledge, skills, and attitudes) act and operate as instruments that will assist visitors in becoming able to tackle delineated, solvable sustainability issues, such as the short life cycle or planned obsolescence of consumer goods. In this approach, the educational value of repair cafés is precisely situated in their ability to offer new insights and (repair) competences to visitors, and to train those visitors in the ability to fix contemporary and future problems, failures and breakdowns. So conceived, in repair cafés the problem is known as a starting point (short life cycles of products), appropriate behavior can be clearly circumscribed (repairing), and the ultimate goals (prolonging life cycles) are delineated in advance. A guiding question, or concern, in the instrumental approach is then: How to fix this problem?

In contradistinction to a focus on sustainability problems and desired solutions, a second approach focuses on how repair cafés are able to transform individual visitors (and repairers). This transformative approach situates the educational dimension of repair cafés in their aim to empower visitors to become individuals who, after having visited the repair café, are deemed to be(come) more active, critical, and responsible. Instead of focusing on problem-solving (the act of repairing), this approach stresses the contribution of places like repair cafés to provide the educational opportunity for deep, personal and affective learning that transcends the boundaries of one single broken product and/or one singular moment of repairing. For instance, repair cafés are often touted as places that allow deep learning about planetary boundaries, (post-)consumerism and capitalism. It is then argued that such learning installs both transformative capacities into individual visitors and enhanced community spirit into the broader repair association (e.g. McAllister, 2013; Van der Velden and Geirbo, 2018). Thus, in the transformative approach, repair cafés are considered as educational practices not so much because they allow a particular sustainability problem to be fixed or because they install delineated competences into their visitors, but because they possess the capacity to foster critical and transformative capabilities of individual visitors. A guiding question in this approach is: Who am I, and who do I need to be(come)?

While there is nothing wrong with approaching the educational dimensions of repair cafés in an instrumental and/or transformative way—the majority of the work we have cited thus far convincingly argues for the instrumental and transformative importance of such grassroots initiatives—in this article we will approach the educational dimension of repair cafés differently. Specifically, in this piece we will argue that—conceived as a practice of a more-than-human public pedagogy—repair cafés allow different questions to be posed than those we briefly outlined above. The concern from which this search for a different approach starts, is first of all that although the instrumental and transformative approach are both well-established in the research literature, they still leave much unanalyzed, imbued as they are with the idea that sustainability education is all about human beings who need to be taught how to establish a new kind of fit in their struggle with their environment (Taylor, 2017). What a relational approach tries to address instead, is how very different practices (such as cooking, farming, making music, repairing, knitting, etc.) involve humans not in a struggle, but in an ongoing fine-tuning process between themselves and the materiality of things, and how these practices, in the absence of a steering center, do generate attention, care and thoughtfulness for a world populated by many more beings than just humans (Decuypere, Hoet & Vandenabeele, 2019; Stengers, 2015). A second concern from which our analysis departs, is a still dominant notion of what exactly constitutes civic engagement with public issues in today’s society (Mol, 2021). A relational approach foregrounds how the issue to live well together is not only addressed in debates, protests and in the forms of arguments but also in the work of daily care for food, repairing devices, looking after for animals etc. (Jackson, 2013; Mol, 2021; Taylor, 2017). As will become clear as the article unfolds, the very act of repairing asks for attentiveness and curiosity for the unexpected relations and attachments that are created between humans and the many devices that are lying on the repair tables. In the research literature on, for instance, repairing cars (Bozkurt and Lara Cohen, 2019; Dant, 2010), mending clothes (Durrani, 2018, 2021; Laitala and Klepp, 2018) and arts and crafts practices where materials and goods are reused or recycled (Luckman and Andrew, 2020), there is a growing interest in how the specificity of the material (metal, wood, electronics, fibers, etc.) evokes a deep haptic knowledge that is needed to interact in different ways with the materiality of things and how practitioners can teach each other this kind of knowledge in order to go on with their repair work. Moreover, repairing things is also often not about a static sort of repairing, which only restores an item to its original state, but more often about taking the time to do things well and engage in a dynamic act of repairing that remakes the item’s form or use (Sennett, 2008). What a relational approach adds to this literature, is precisely its orientation toward a more-than-human public pedagogy. That is, a focus on a learning process that puts concern for the essential heterogeneity of this more-than-human world at the center and that, in doing so, fosters the ability to compose a response to the question of what these situated worlds need to thrive and prosper (Decuypere, Hoet & Vandenabeele, 2019; Schildermans, Vandenabeele.& Vlieghe, 2019b; Jackson, 2017; Rousell, 2016; Taylor, 2018).

It is in that respect that, importantly, research on public pedagogy has emerged as a valuable framework for examining learning processes that take place outside the formal education system in a variety of both physical and virtual spaces such as museums, public art installations, the internet, public media, and grass roots initiatives (Biesta, 2012; Ellsworth, 2005; Sandlin et al., 2010). By shifting the focus away from school settings and classrooms, public pedagogy emphasizes that the everyday spaces of daily life, “where people actually live their lives and where meaning is produced, assumed and contested” have a pedagogical relevance (Giroux, 2000: 355). In line with the above-mentioned dominant notion of civic engagement, public pedagogy research has only recently been focusing on how these very different practices establishes the possibilities to think and act in and with a public of both humans and more-than-human beings (Cooper and Sandlin, 2020). Biesta (2012), for example, still binds his concept of “becoming public” on Hannah Arendt’s human-centered concept of natality, implying that, for Biesta, public pedagogy deals with surroundings in which an individual’s human life is affected by the presence and the acts of other human beings. However, according to Savage (2010), for public pedagogy to make sense in current society, it needs to be understood in a pluralized sense of pedagogies. Savage encourages public pedagogy scholars to pay more attention to how different forms of “publics” are being made and how these different publics also have clearly distinguishable educative forces. Repairing as a public making activity engenders what Savage (2010) calls a concrete public. People and the broken devices in a repair café are bound together in the concreteness of the repair activities and this also means, the sharing of a particular place. The sense of this concrete public is different from what Savage (2010) describes as a political public that shares political statements based as they are on a membership of a clearly defined human public. It is also different from a popular public (Savage, 2010) that is addressed by and responds to a particular culture or lifestyle and makes identification with human-made images and discursive practices possible. Instead, in a repair café the many broken devices on the repair tables calls the attention of repairers and users and in doing so, puts something at stake in a very concrete sense. The pedagogy of such a concrete and heterogeneous coexistence hints at a mode of learning which is different from developing a clear political statement or critique against, for example, mass production of a globalized economy in general. It is equally different from developing an alternative lifestyle that is in line with commonly accepted sustainability principles. Rather than that, and drawing on Masschelein and Simons (2018), it is a pedagogy that is leading humans out into the world and foregrounds the importance of “thoughtfulness, cautiousness, vigilance and attentiveness” (Masschelein and Simons, 2018: 54) for how to live together with people, animals, devices, tools, clothes, rivers, bacteria, plants, etc. Such living together, they argue, requires practices where that living together is at stake and of collective concern, and where the very act of living together is never self-given, but necessitates active study in order to be able to be composed.

In line with this relational approach, we seek to articulate the specificities of such a studious gathering. What is at stake and matters for a concrete public in a repair café is trying to do things well, attending to the broken devices that are lying on the repair tables and hence turning this concern into real alternatives about what can become of this world. This very learning of what is at stake starts from the experience that all life always takes place “somewhere” and this, in turn, implies a concern about living together and being influenced by the fabric of relationships in that specific place (Latour, 2016; Masschelein, 2018). The public pedagogy of this more-than-human public thus prompts the question: Where are we, what and who is at stake, and how can we live together? In posing this guiding question, what becomes clear is that the here-and-now of a specific place (e.g. this specific repair café) is always positioned, and always relates to, other places (e.g. other repair cafés; places where spare parts can be found) and broader societal evolutions (e.g. mass production). As such, in a relational approach, questions regarding what is human and what is non-human, what is global and what is local, what is situated here and what is situated there, what is near and what is far, fold into the specific spatiotemporal assemblage of this repair café.

To sum up: in a relational approach of this public pedagogy, it is never just about human beings and their future, but equally about how humans are reminded sharing a common world with more-than-human beings (such as food, electronic devices, tools, animals, and soil). The focus is on how repair cafés gather people and things in such a way that they actually generate a careful attention for the world and transform the earth into something that people and things share and are attached to. This experience of sharing a world together is not something that precedes the event of gathering in a repair café, but emerges in and through it. It is an experience in which the world becomes a concern of communal thought and action in the present.

In a similar vein, in our analysis below, we aim to think with (rather than only about) the observed assemblages that emerged from moment to moment and scrutinize the specific characteristics of this more-than-human public pedagogy that is formed in the repair café’s messiness—and sometimes even filth—of broken devices and people. The repairers, users and devices of one specific repair café in Leuven (Belgium) set the stage for this analysis. As part of a comparative case study of “sharing economy initiatives” in Leuven (Larosse, 2016), one of our Master’s students observed several of these initiatives and interviewed the initiator of this repair café. In this interview, the following issues were discussed: how did this repair café start? Who are the volunteers and what kind of repair experience do they bring? What are the (sorts of) devices and who are the participants in these repair meetings? Does the initiator have certain goals that she would like to see realized with these repair meetings? In a follow-up interview with the initiator, the preliminary findings based on observations of several events in this repair café in Leuven were discussed. In total, six events of this repair café in Leuven were observed and, during these observations, several short interviews were conducted with the participants present in these events. In these observations and short interviews, we focused on the repair work itself as well as on the broken devices that were lying on the numerous repair tables. More precisely, we focused on how these broken devices stimulated specific doings and conversations between the repairers and the users of the devices. This very specific focus on the repair work itself was also inspired by what the initiator of this repair café had already mentioned in the first interview we conducted with her at the beginning of our research. She told us how both the posters on the walls of this repair café and the leaflets on the repair tables were important in drawing the participants’ attention to the urgent changes needed to create a more sustainable society. Such posters and leaflets stipulated very clearly “how to lower the consumption of electronic devices” and “how important it is to reduce the ozone hole.” However, in the same interview, the initiator equally wondered if what was happening during the repair work and with the broken devices was doing much more than what these posters and guidelines aspired to (in terms of conveying clear messages regarding what people need to know and do to enable a change toward a more sustainable world).

It is the possibilities of this unnoticed pedagogy at work in this repair café that has led to the analysis below. What is important for our analysis, is that examining the possibles of this pedagogy is different from trying to optimize its potentials. Potentials are not yet real, and the task of the researcher is to look for ways to realize those potentials that are deemed important, for example: how learning can be stimulated even further according to an instrumental or transformative approach to sustainability education. Even though this kind of research can be effectively used in order to offer repair cafés positive validation and legitimacy within the field of educational research and in wider society, it above all runs the risk of applying an overly reductive logic or even ignoring important educational processes. In contrast, in order to obtain insight in the educational possibles of this repair café, our research is—through involving multiple authors and their thoughts—zooming in on what is exactly happening in the many entanglements between people and broken devices in this specific place.

Valuation and slowing down: Tactics in conversations of repair

Many of the devices that are brought to the Repair Café come without a manual. People have lost it, or they never had one. The first and only radio a priest bought in the sixties when ordinated to the priesthood, the little gems youngsters love to wear, a duvet of a grandmother, and so on. Every worn piece or broken device is a unique challenge to search for an appropriate reparation, and all these efforts are ‘for free.’ It would be very difficult, according to the initiator, to determine the monetary value of repair work. Is it possible to convert all the time and knowledge people love to spend on repair work into monetary value? Should the purchase price of a new device also be the price for the repair work of a broken device? It is also not up to the repairer alone to decide what it is worth to repair something, or how something should be repaired. A duvet that is irreparably worn is put back together, as good as possible, and because its owner insists it will be used again. (vignette 1, based on observations and interviews)

In the wake of their breakdown, an old radio, little gems or a worn-out duvet come into being as issues that demand attention from both repairers and visitors. In their research on invisible forms of maintenance and restoration activities in cities, Graham and Thrift (2007) scrutinize how some “things only come into visible focus as things when they become inoperable—they break or stutter and they then become the object of attention” (Graham and Thrift, 2007: 2). Likewise, in educational contexts, attention has been paid to how digital devices, such as smartphones, laptops and tablets, are becoming increasingly prevalent, to the extent that what these “digital devices do in daily school activities can easily slip into the background, and as a result, tends to be taken for granted” (Alirezabeigi, Masschelein, & Decuypere, 2020: 194). It is only at the moment that such devices break down that their “silent doings”—their operability—becomes apparent, and can equally become a means of analysis (Alirezabeigi, Masschelein, & Decuypere, 2020: 194). Something similar happens in Repair Cafés, where the breakdown of everyday objects constantly triggers small conversations that are of a different nature than those people might have in a regular shop.

It’s different than when you go to a shop. There you hand your stuff over and there you don’t have the exchange between each other. And here you do. So in a way it is more of a partnership that develops here. (Repair Café visitor, interview excerpt)

In a shop, people don’t have to discuss or cooperate in calculating the value of what needs to be repaired, and often repair is not an issue at all. Buying new stuff when old stuff breaks down is the only option in most shops. However, in a repair café this typical disposable logic of dealing with things is eliminated and this elimination leaves a certain ambiguity in the relationship between repairers and repair café visitors. The criteria for determining whether something is worth repairing and how to do so are not fixed once and for all. Instead, negotiations take shape in the small conversations stimulated by each device brought to the repair café and where a partnership or shared care for the broken device can emerge. We could observe how for example at first, the seamstress doesn’t see how and why a duvet whose fabric is frayed and whose fibers are worn out should be given a second life, but what is typical for Repair Cafés is that the owner of this duvet can and does nevertheless tell her to do so.

The fabric is frayed, the fibers are worn out of this duvet, and to do this properly you have to put a piece of fabric behind it, but we don’t have any of that with us. The remaining pieces of fabric could then be put back together again, but in my opinion, this would not give a ‘nice’ result either. But I do repair this quilt and the user of this quilt is so happy and says ‘oh, that’s a nice quilt and I still want to use it’. So, for me that’s okay, to repair this as well as possible. (Repairer, interview excerpt).

In his research on repair-related activities in Stuttgart, Schmidt (2019) similarly observes how repair engenders moments “of conviviality, non-violent and non-hierarchical negotiation, disagreement and belonging” (p. 244). Put differently, the public in and during such negotiations, is an emerging collective that is formed in an ongoing and recurrent assembling of concrete humans and things at that particular place; an assembling that happens piece-by-piece but that is not at all free from social issues and frustration. Who still wants to use this thing? What is worthwhile to be repaired or not? How much effort can and will the repairer put in to give a second life to the device on the table?

The importance of these small conversations was also made clear to us by what the initiator told us on how she sometimes choses to intervene when visitors are in a rush and insisting on a quick repair: “in Repair Cafés, things don’t go fast, and visitors should be (made) aware of that” (Initiator of this repair café, interview excerpt) According to her, these small interventions of slowing down and stimulating a conversation have little to do with any large-scale socio-political aims that she considers important. In these short exchanges, which tend not to take long and are of a minor nature, she doesn’t try to convince or inform people: she only attempts to direct their attention to the sharing and caring for broken things. Seen in this way, the small conversations in the repair café evoke a pragmatic take on the value of things and operate, we suggest, what de Certeau (1984) has described as a tactical logic that injects a sense of subversive spark or creative play into what otherwise appears to be prearranged. One of the examples de Certeau gives is of city dwellers who are using the streets and the houses in ways that are different from the abstract rational models of city-planners. This tactical dwelling is not the result of an act of criticism or based on a clearly defined oppositional statement about city life. Rather, it is a movement away from grounding city life into a so-called essence and opening into a field of many possible ways of assembling people, streets and houses. In the Repair Café a similar shift becomes possible from the abstract or monetarily expressed value of consumer goods to the many different use valuations of everyday assemblages of people and things. In the momentary connection between the device, its user and its repairer the small conversations become a vital source of variations (by recombining objects), improvisations (by articulating a multitude of valuations and different uses), and imaginations (by upgrading or redefining how a device should look or function).

Skilled engagement and attention: Repair cafés as a studious milieu

Anyone can sign up to voluntarily repair at the Repair Café: amateurs as well as professionally trained people. Over the years, a core of voluntary repairers have traveled with the Repair Café from one location to another in Leuven. But no matter in which location the Repair Café ends up, “local repairers” always equally participate. This is particularly the case in residential and care homes, where elderly people help to sew clothing and other stuff, but equally in organizations working with people living in disadvantaged situations and poverty. It seems that people in these places (still) have the practical skills to repair things; skills and knowledge that have been made largely redundant and are no longer practiced on a regular basis in today’s society. During the repair work, the repairer and the owner typically need to talk about the broken things that need repairing. Especially with electronic or mechanical devices, the repairer wants to know how a device broke down in order to assess the defect and find a solution to the problem. Electronic devices (such as vacuum cleaners, printers and toasters) are also often difficult to disassemble. Repairers have to open or remove the housing, and a couple of extra hands from the owner is often more than welcome to help with this pulling and twisting. Equally, cables have to be kept aside, screws have to be kept in place, etc. When repairing non-electrical items, visitors equally regularly help with preparatory work, such as pinning clothes or cutting fabric. (vignette 2, based on observations and interviews)

Although obvious from the start of our research, one aspect still came as a surprise to us when we read the observation reports: the materiality of the fabrics, the clothing, the household appliances and the many different electronic devices demand the full attention of everyone present. What the observation also shows is that this attention to the materiality of things installs a radical equality among all the people who happen to come together in this repair café. Who the repairer is, or rather what position she occupies in society, does not seem to be of any importance for the repair work to be done. Likewise, a strict distinction between the repairer and the visitor or owner of a broken device, is not important.

The problem is that when you open something, sometimes everything falls apart . . . and you can’t remember how it was put together. . . You have to use your imagination then. . . and at the same time you ask the people who bring their stuff to repair this together (Repairer, interview excerpt).

The specific characteristics of the devices, clothing and electronics on the repair tables—the rigidity or flexibility of the housing, whether they are assembled with screws, whether spare parts are available or not, the length of the electrical cables—mean that often everyone around the table helps with the repair work. The repair work itself, then, doesn’t happen seamlessly, as “the material world resists, obstructs, or frustrates action, and therefore calls attention to itself” (Jackson, 2013: 230).

As I noticed during my visits to the Repair Café when repairing vacuum cleaners, printers and toasters, it seems to be a general characteristic of electronic devices that they are difficult to dismantle. The repairer has to get through the housing, but during this searching (and wrenching) process she can use a helping hand. Visitors often have to keep cables out of the way, hold screws in place, help pull up the housing, and so on. When repairing non-electrical items, visitors also help with preparatory work, such as pinning a fabric. (Student-researcher, observation excerpt)

In our first analyses of our observations, we wondered whether 20 years ago we would have noticed this choreography of movements and forces between humans and those devices and things on the repair tables. This observation came to us as we realized how we live in other worlds today; worlds in which “material interdependence” (Tsing, 2015) or “corridors of connection” (Haraway, 2016: 140) between humans and non-humans have become crucial and precarious at the same time. As our analysis shows, not only the small exchanges, but also equally the repair work, intensify the experience that something is at stake and make possible an attentiveness to the ways humans and things (can) hold together. Both involve an embodied responsiveness to objects and a sense of experimenting with a spectrum of mundane activities: from cleaning dust, wiping, oiling, sewing, gluing, replacing an elastic band or sprocket wheel to more thorough renovation, disassembling and recombining things, updating software and so on. In these activities the repairers become part of a field of forces in which the materiality of a thing merges with the physical force of the body and the hands of the repairers, and vice versa.

This thoughtful commitment to non-human things is what Gan and Tsing (2018) also observed between farmers and matsutake mushrooms in the Satoyama woodland in central Japan. By working with and around each other for a long time, pines, matsutake, oaks and farmers have developed the Satoyama forest. This is a small success but could not be produced by humans alone. Yet, the messy collective of things and humans in a repair café is not a woodland forest floor that comes to life through a nourishing milieu where living species such as plants, leaves, mushrooms and humans can grow and develop according to their biological needs. The particular milieu of this collective that holds humans and broken devices together, is what we want to call a studious milieu of hands, movements, bodies, textures, materiality, mechanics, electronics and so on. Similar to Schmidt’s work on repairing activities in Stuttgart, mentioned above, Tim Ingold’s work refers to a skilled engagement with the world. This skilled engagement can be circumscribed as an engagement in which human beings do not impose some preconceived form on matter but are, according to Ingold (2008), continually working from within a field of forces and materials, bringing forth the life of things. Also, the diverse body of research on breakdown and repair referred to so far (e.g. Alirezabeigi, Masschelein, & Decuypere, 2020; Graham and Thrift, 2007; Jackson, 2013) consistently emphasizes that devices should not be understood as inanimate material with a single use, but rather as material processes that unfold over time in chains of mutual entanglements between humans and things. The devices that we use in everyday life are bound to continuous cycles of articulation and disarticulation of their material forms. Moreover people—as we also observed in the repair café—generate specific knowledge regarding, for example, the flexibility of the housing of a vacuum cleaner, the frayed fabric of a duvet, the nichrome threads inside a roaster oven, the keys of a cell phone, etc.

When this focus on the lively nature of things and their materiality is sustained, not only during the short exchanges but also throughout the skilled engagement of repair, the repair café starts to operate as a studious milieu, and the movements of hands and bodies become decisional (i.e. a posteriori) rather than intentional (i.e. a priori). As we will elaborate further below, the pedagogical force of this studious milieu is different from a pedagogy that aims to realize dedicated aims, for example a shared conception of what inclusion of elderly people or people living in poverty should look like. In the way the initiator tries to stimulate the small conversations and draws the attention to the repair activities, the eyes, bodies and hands of elderly people and people living in poverty become part of this studious milieu. This means that the small gestures of the initiator in and on itself give the repair practice a force of importance and a sense of heightened affect. It makes possible that a concrete public of humans and things assembles, and that new and different forms of living with our devices (and of devices living with people) are crafted.

Toward a minor public pedagogy: Making propositions possible

In this third and last part of our analysis, we elaborate on how this concrete collective of people and things operates as a learning environment where repairing becomes not just a topic that humans can learn about, but in the first place a milieu in which humans and things are learning to act together. Repairing as a tactical practice and a studious milieu draws on what Manning (2019) designates as an “immediation force”: an educational force by which repairing can generate affects in itself and can operate as “minor gestures” (Manning, 2016). Minor gestures alter “the valence of what comes to be” (Manning, 2016: 6) as they are the generative force that opens up new modes of practicing collective life without making a priori assumptions about how this life should look like. They offer no representation, no justification, no mission, but are generous in giving the repair practice a sense of heightened affect and maneuverability into issues that appeared to be prescribed by a global economy and a linear and predictable view on the future.

An important indication of this minor pedagogy is that the posters on the walls of this repair café and the leaflets on the repair tables did not seem to interfere with how repairers and visitors of the repair café were engaged in the midst of an entangled swirl of repair activities. Visitors and repairers didn’t pay much attention to the posters, and the guidelines on the flyers that were lying on the repair tables didn’t seem to resonate much with this ongoing and recurrent assembling of humans and things. The flyers aim to make already-thought solutions for repair work available for everyone and, in doing so, to make the repair work as quick and effective as possible (what we designated as “tinkering”). The major force of theses flyers is then that they represent clear and fixed signposts and in doing so, also mark how and where mankind ought to navigate to. Conversely, the generative force of the small conversations and the repair activities is that they slow down the habit to directly aim for straight solutions and mark an opening to experiences of the plenteousness of possible usages and appearances of devices. As minor gestures, they cannot predict what will come, but they do change the decisiveness of what may come. Equally with regards to posters, we see a difference with the minor gestures that are at work during the repair activities. The poster in this repair café depicts the iconic image of the Blue Planet (Grevsmühl, 2014) and underneath this image one can read a message on “how important it is to reduce the ozone hole.” In such a planetary view of the earth “all life forms as well as humans are squashed to the point of becoming invisible” (Arènes et al., 2018: 121). This reduction of observable life forms seems to be the very opposite of what we could observe taking place in this repair café. Indeed, as our analysis has shown, in the repair café a multiplication of use values gets articulated, and humans and the many broken devices are part of the collective life that emerges there.

In that regard, the double sense of the word milieu in French is important here, that is, it refers to both the middle and the surroundings (Decuypere, Hoet & Vandenabeele, 2019; Stengers, 2005). First, the learning milieu as middle signifies that an important sort of learning in a repair café should be conceived as a process without reference to a particular principle or a certain projected ideal. Second, and related to this, learning through the surroundings means that in this learning environment, repairers and things are never separated from each other, in the sense that repairing goes beyond a functional understanding of “fixing,” which happens when repairers have a clear conception of what a well-functioning device sh/could be. Beyond such a functional understanding, it can be argued that the practice of repairing, as it happens in repair cafés, engenders a specific relationship to one’s surroundings that emerges from and further enable an attentiveness to a concrete public of people and things. In Ingold’s argument, it is precisely “in the opposite of capture and containment, namely discharge and leakage, that we discover the life of things” (Ingold, 2008: 13). In the many examples Ingold (2013) gives of craftsmen (painters, basket weavers, potters, cello-players, etc.), he distinguishes making from weaving. Making is about building an object based on a specific idea the maker has in mind and wants to express within this object, whereas in weaving the form of an object arises from the mutual engagement of people and materials.

What is important, is that this public of humans and things start to weave forms of life together and in doing so, makes propositions possible about, for example, suspending waste, eliminating direct monetary value, etc. A proposition doesn’t claim a definitive stake or authority as it is, according to Latour, only “a pro-position,” which denotes obstinacy (position) but accepts at the same time “that it negotiates itself in a com-position without losing its solidity” (Latour, 2004: 212). It is about a collective that emerges through what Haraway (2016) describes as a “string figure game.” A string figure game is played with one piece of string with the ends tied together to form a loop, which is held between the two hands of one player. The figure that this player makes with this string is taken over by a second player, which allows another figure to emerge. As such, it is a game “without winners or losers, or more precisely, to win means to be able to go on time and again, to take what is passed on and respond” (Schildermans, 2019a: 21). In this practice of holding and relaying, what is important is not making a firm political or ethical statement but the willingness to take the relay and draw a different pattern.

Conclusion

We started this article with the observation that the majority of the research literature convincingly argues for the instrumental and transformative importance of grassroots initiatives, driven as they are by the desire and the engagement of people to conceive and test projects for a “better” sustainable society. When people decide to gather and repair broken devices together, it seems obvious that repairers and visitors gain all kinds of instrumental competences (e.g. repair knowledge, skills, and attitudes) and that they can also deeply experience a transformative learning process about, for example, the need to keep planetary boundaries within the sustainable limits of life. In their day-to-day engagement, then, it is not surprising that many grassroots initiatives and practitioners have an explicit focus on steering the world in a more sustainable direction and on striving to enhance the right competences and profound processes of transformative learning within their visitors.

The aim of this article was to show how there is yet another kind of engagement that emerges within the heterogeneity of human and non-human entanglements in a repair café. Importantly, this focus on a third or relational form of engagement offers a way of thinking about, and doing research on, a more-than-human public pedagogy that challenges two key assumptions of sustainability education today: first, the assumption that all that sustainability education (be it formal or informal) needs is clear targets, and second, that humans alone are able to mark the signposts to these goals. For instance, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) depict clear targets and principles regarding the tipping point of ozone layer depletion or the percentage of people who remain without access to education. Within the SDG framework, these targets are important and should make it possible that humanity as a whole can rely on knowledge of what the future should look like. Subsequently, it is then assumed that these targets can stimulate a learning process regarding what to do and how to plan in order to inhabit this world in the future. Yet, our analysis shows the equal importance of attempts to inhabit the world in the here-and-now (rather than in a projected future), and of studious milieus, such as repair cafés, in which people materially involve with the surrounding world and, in doing so, patiently weave new worlds together.

According to our analysis, breakdowns, and the minor gestures in response to them in repair cafés, generate a remarkable attention for the question “Where are we, what and who is at stake, and how to live together?” Humans, here, are not in some sort of leading position toward more sustainable ways of living, but are rather considered as part and parcel of an improvisational weaving of living together with both human and non-human actors. This attentiveness to who and what is at stake at a particular place is different from learning to inhabit the world in an already projected and specified future. What happens in a repair café is that in the middle of things and people, the future emerges rhythmically in the present and time is bent in various directions. Experiences of an excess of use values and actors give a sense of generativity to the many repair issues that arise during repair work and are vital sources of variations, improvisations, and imaginations.

To conclude, the research agenda of this minor public pedagogy is about both scrutinizing and designing the small gestures in which making can go beyond fixing and become an activity that promotes a thoughtfulness for patiently weaving new worlds together. In these making-oriented publics, people gather not because they have the same mission or attitude toward the future but because more-than-human things (which can also be food, animals, music instruments etc.) bring them together and ask them to study and talk to each other. The navigational capacity of this public pedagogy is minor in nature, as it doesn’t create clear signposts of where to go as humans. Instead, the research agenda we suggest is focused on designating the many moments of attention and slowing down, and on how they propel humans into a sensory sensitivity for inhabiting the world in the here-and-now. It’s about a pedagogy which installs a very intimate temporal interplay of what it is to be in the present and in the future, but equally and at the same time, between what is deemed to be local and what is deemed to be global. The materials used in the act of repairing are always coming from a very specific locality, namely from that what is given and ready at hand, and repair cafés themselves constitute a specific spatiality where the act of repairing, and the care that is associated with that repairing, is very much happening in the middle (and through what is surrounding this middle). At the same time, repair cafés establish a unique care for, and being committed to, our communal common world. Through our relational lens of a minor public pedagogy, then, the globality that is being established and that is being aspired to, is the globality of what it means to be common, or what it means to be in a public that “share” this worldly living together. All this raises important research questions on how in making-oriented publics, both space and time are constantly enfolded into one another and how questions about publicness, commonness, locality and globality, and past and future, are no theoretical givens, but rather questions that urgently require empirical scrutiny.

Acknowledgements

We want to express our gratitude to student Margo Larosse for the interviews and observations she conducted in the repair café in Leuven in the context of her Master’s thesis and for the detailed substantive analysis of these interviews and observations.

Declaration of conflicting interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.

Funding
The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.

ORCID iDs
Joke Vandenabeele https://orcid.org/0000-0001-8855-3571

Mathias Decuypere https://orcid.org/0000-0002-0983-738X

References

Alirezabeigi, S, Masschelein, J, Decuypere, M (2020) Investigating digital doings through breakdowns: a sociomaterial ethnography of a Bring Your Own Device school. Learning, Media and Technology, 45(2), 193207. https://doi.org/10.1080/17439884.2020.1727501
Google Scholar | Crossref

Anderson, C (2012) Makers: The New Industrial Revolution. New York, NY: Crown Business.
Google Scholar

Arènes, A, Latour, B, Gaillardet, J (2018) Giving depth to the surface: An exercise in the Gaia-graphy of critical zones. The Anthropocene Review 5(2): 120135.
Google Scholar | SAGE Journals | ISI

Biesta, G (2012) Becoming public: Public pedagogy, citizenship and the public sphere. Social & Cultural Geography 13(7): 683697.
Google Scholar | Crossref | ISI

Bozkurt, Ö, Lara Cohen, R (2019) Repair work as good work: Craft and love in classic car restoration training. Human Relations 72(6): 11051128.
Google Scholar | SAGE Journals | ISI

Carr, C, Gibson, C (2016) Geographies of making: Rethinking materials and skills for volatile futures. Progress in Human Geography 40(3): 297315.
Google Scholar | SAGE Journals | ISI

Charter, M, Keiller, S (2014) Grassroots Innovation and the Circular Economy: A Global Survey of Repair Cafés and Hackerspaces. Surrey: Centre for Sustainable Design.
Google Scholar

Cohen, B, Muñoz, P (2016) Sharing cities and sustainable consumption and production: Towards an integrated framework. Journal of Cleaner Production 134: 8797.
Google Scholar | Crossref | ISI

Cooper, J, Sandlin, JA (2020) Intra-active pedagogies of publicness: Exploring street art in Melbourne, Australia. Pedagogy Culture and Society 28: 421443.
Google Scholar | Crossref

Dant, T (2010) The work of repair: Gesture, emotion and sensual knowledge. Sociological Research Online 15(3): 97118.
Google Scholar | SAGE Journals | ISI

de Certeau, M (1984) The Practice of Everyday Life. trans. Rendall, S . Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Google Scholar

Decuypere, M, Hoet, H, Vandenabeele, J (2019) Learning to Navigate (in) the Anthropocene. Sustainability, 11(2), 547. https://doi.org/10.3390/su11020547
Google Scholar | Crossref

Deflorian, M (2021) Refigurative politics: Understanding the volatile participation of critical creatives in community gardens, repair cafés and clothing swaps. Social Movement Studies 20(3): 346363.
Google Scholar | Crossref

Dewberry, EL, Saca, L, Moreno, M, et al. (2016) A landscape of repair. In: Proceedings of the sustainable innovation 2016 – Circular economy innovation and design: Towards sustainable product design, Epsom, 7–8 November, pp.7685. Surrey: Centre for Sustainable Design, University for the Creative Arts.
Google Scholar

Durrani, M (2018) People gather for stranger things, so why not this?” learning sustainable sensibilities through communal garment-mending practices. Sustainability 10: 2218.
Google Scholar | Crossref

Durrani, M (2021) Like stitches to a wound. Fashioning taste in and through garment mending practices. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 50: 775805.
Google Scholar | SAGE Journals | ISI

Ellsworth, E (2005) Places of Learning: Media, Architecture, and Pedagogy. New York, NY: Routledge.
Google Scholar | Crossref

Fenwick, T (2006) The audacity of hope: Towards poorer pedagogies. Studies in the Education of Adults 38(1): 924.
Google Scholar | Crossref

Frantzeskaki, N, Dumitru, A, Anguelovski, I, et al. (2016) Elucidating the changing roles of civil society in urban sustainability transitions. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability 22: 4150.
Google Scholar | Crossref

Gan, E, Tsing, A (2018) How things hold. A diagram of coordination in a Satoyama forest. Social Analysis 62(4): 102145.
Google Scholar | Crossref

Giroux, HA (2000) Public pedagogy as cultural politics: Stuart Hall and the ‘crisis’ of culture. Cultural Studies 14(2): 341360.
Google Scholar | Crossref | ISI

Graham, S, Thrift, N (2007) Out of order. Understanding repair and maintenance. Theory Culture & Society 24(3): 125.
Google Scholar | SAGE Journals | ISI

Grevsmühl, SV (2014) La Terre Vue D’en Haut. L’invention De L’environnement Global. Paris: La Découverte.
Google Scholar

Haraway, DJ (2016) Staying With the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Google Scholar | Crossref

Ingold, T (2008) Bringing things to life: Creative entanglements in a world of materials. NCRM Working Paper Series, 115. ESRC National Centre for Research Methods.
Google Scholar

Ingold, T (2013) Making. Anthropology, Archaeology, Art and Architecture. London: Routledge.
Google Scholar | Crossref

Jackson, SJ (2013) Rethinking Repair. Available at: http://sjackson.infosci.cornell.edu/RethinkingRepairPROOFS%28reduced%29Aug2013.pdf (accessed 10 February 2020).
Google Scholar

Jackson, SJ (2017) Speed, time, infrastructure: Temporalities of breakdown, maintenance, and repair. In:Wajcman, J, Dodd, N (eds) The Sociology of Speed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp.169185.
Google Scholar

Kannengießer, S (2018) Repair cafés as communicative figurations: Consumer-critical media practices for cultural transformation. In:Hepp, A, Breiter, A, Hasebrink, U (eds) Communicative Figurations: Transforming Communications in Times of Deep Mediatization. Cham: Springer/Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 101–122.
Google Scholar | Crossref

Kannengießer, S (2020) Engaging with and reflecting on the materiality of digital media technologies: Repair and fair production. New Media & Society 22(1): 117.
Google Scholar | SAGE Journals

Laitala, K, Klepp, IG (2018) Care and production of clothing in Norwegian homes: Environmental implications of mending and making practices. Sustainability 10: 2899.
Google Scholar | Crossref

Larosse, M (2016) De pedagogie van het anders omgaan met spullen in het Repair Café, het geefplein en de weggeefwinkel van Leuven. Een exploratieve, empirische studie. Unpublished Master’s Thesis, KU Leuven, Leuven.
Google Scholar | Crossref

Latour, B (2004) How to talk about the body? The normative dimension of science studies. Body & Society 10(2-3): 205229.
Google Scholar | SAGE Journals

Latour, B (2016) Is Geo-logy the new umbrella for all the sciences? Hints for a neo-Humboldtian university. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University. Available at: http://www.bruno-latour.fr/sites/default/files/150-CORNELL-2016-.pdf (accessed 31 May 2020).
Google Scholar | Crossref

Luckman, S, Andrew, J (2020) Craft and design in an age of climate crisis. In:Luckman, S, Andrew, J (eds) Craftspeople and Designer Makers in the Contemporary Creative Economy. Cham: Springer International Publishing, pp.103205.
Google Scholar | Crossref

Manning, E (2016) The Minor Gesture. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Google Scholar | Crossref

Manning, E (2019) Toward a politics of immediation. Frontiers in Sociology 3:111. DOI: 10.3389/fsoc.2018.00042
Google Scholar | Crossref

Masschelein, J (2010) Educating the gaze: The idea of a poor pedagogy. Ethics and Education 5(1): 4353.
Google Scholar | Crossref

Masschelein, J (2018) Van sociale naar mondiale pedagogiek. In: Wildemeersch, D (ed.) Grensverleggers. Over Kwesties Die Ons Verdelen. Antwerpen: Garant, pp.1113.
Google Scholar

Masschelein, J, Simons, M (2018) The university as pedagogical form: Public study, responsibility, mondialisation. In:Ramaekers, S, Hodgson, N (eds) Past, Present, and Future Possibilities for Philosophy and History of Education Finding Space and Time for Research. Cham: Springer International Publishing, pp. 4761.
Google Scholar | Crossref

McAllister, S (2013) 10 Stories of transition in the US: The spread of repair cafes. Available at: https://www.resilience.org/stories/2018-03-02/10-stories-transition-us-spread-repair-cafes/ (accessed 10 February 2020).
Google Scholar

McLaren, A, McLauchlan, S (2015) Crafting sustainable repairs: practice-based approaches to extending the life of clothes. In: Proceedings of the PLATE conference, Delft, The Netherlands, 1719 June. Available at: https://www.plateconference.org/crafting-sustainable-repairs-practice-based-approaches-extending-life-clothes/ (accessed 10 June 2021).
Google Scholar

Mol, A (2021) Eating in Theory. Durham, NC; London: Duke University Press.
Google Scholar

Repair Café (2019) About Repair Café. Available at:https://repaircafe.org/en/about/ (accessed 10 February 2020).
Google Scholar

Rousell, D (2016) Dwelling in the Anthropocene: Reimagining university learning environments in response to social and ecological change. Australian Journal of Environmental Education 32(2): 137153.
Google Scholar | Crossref

Sandlin, JA, Schultz, BD, Burdick, J (2010) Handbook of Public Pedagogy. New York, NY: Routledge.
Google Scholar | Crossref

Savage, G (2010) Problematizing ‘public pedagogy’ in educational research. In:Sandlin, JA, Schultz, BD, Burdick, J (eds) Handbook of public pedagogy. New York, NY: Routledge, pp.103115.
Google Scholar

Schildermans, H (2019a) Making a university. Introductory notes on an ecology of study practices. Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation, KU Leuven, Leuven.
Google Scholar

Schildermans, H, Vandenabeele, J, Vlieghe, J (2019b) Study Practices and the Creation of a Common World. Unearthing the dynamics of an urban farming initiative. Teoría de la Educación. Revista Interuniversitaria, 31(2): 87108. http://dx.doi.org/10.14201/teri.2019312%28jul-dic%29
Google Scholar

Schmidt, B (2019) Repair’s diverse transformative geographies: Lessons from a repair community in Stuttgart. Ephemera. Theory and Politics in Organizations 19(2): 229251.
Google Scholar

Sennett, R (2008) The Craftsman. New Haven, CT: Yale university press.
Google Scholar

Stengers, I (2005) Introductory notes on an ecology of practices. Cultural Studies Review 11(1): 183196.
Google Scholar | Crossref

Stengers, I (2015) In Catastrophic Times: Resisting the Coming Barbarism. Lüneburg: Meson Press and Open Humanities Press.
Google Scholar

Taylor, A (2017) Beyond stewardship: Common world pedagogies for the Anthropocene. Environmental Education Research 23(10): 14481461.
Google Scholar | Crossref

Taylor, CA (2018) Each intra-action matters: Towards a posthuman ethics for enlarging response-ability in higher education pedagogical practice-ings. In:BOZALEK, Vivienne, ROSI, Braidotti, SHEFER, Tamara, et al (eds) Socially Just Pedagogies: Posthumanist, Feminist and Materialist Perspectives in Higher Education. London: Bloomsbury Academic, pp.8196.
Google Scholar | Crossref

Tsing, A (2015) The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Google Scholar | Crossref

Van der Velden, M, Geirbo, HC (2018) Repair = care: System stories from Norway and Ghana. In: Proceedings of the RSD7, Relating systems thinking and design, Turin, Italy, 23–26 October, pp.2326.
Google Scholar

Joke Vandenabeele is associate professor at the Laboratory for Education and Society (KU Leuven, Belgium). She has a diverse and wide-ranging experience with practice oriented academic research and choose to develop her research on public pedagogy in relation to social issues such as poverty, solidarity, living together in the diversity of a city, sustainable development and agriculture.

Mathias Decuypere is assistant professor at the Methodology of Educational Sciences Research Group (KU Leuven, Belgium). His main interests are situated at the digitization, datafication and platformization of education; and how these evolutions shape distinct forms of educational spaces and times.